What do pre-schoolers need to learn before their ABC’s?

Teach to feel

2017 is the big year for us! We put 2016 off, with the excuse of “she’s too close to the cut-off”, though really we felt a lot of relief that there is still one more year before our little girl starts Big School!

In all honesty, I think she could have handled the workload; maybe not sitting still for so long, though the workload yes. Children truly are sponges – it is amazing the things they learn and remember. We have had to change our approach of “No, we can’t do that right now because…” to just “No” as she could always think of logical ways to overcome the very barriers “preventing” us from meeting her requests.

Though, at age 4 years and 6 months, is she really ready to attend school at this point in time? Ignoring the Mum in me desiring to slow down time, the counsellor part of me feels that we have made the best choice. Our daughter is determined, witty, creative and great at problem-solving – though she is still getting a grip on her emotions.

What does this have to do with pre-schoolers not needing to read?

Well, by this I don’t mean they don’t need to be read to – certainly there are a tonne of benefits children can experience by having Mum or Dad spend quiet time in imagination land, as well as supporting the key purpose of this blog.

No, what the title is saying is that children of this age do not have to start learning how to read books by themselves right now to get a head start in life. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, it is more so that there is something incredibly more important that they need to intentionally learn – and that is about emotions.

Ok, who here has watched “Inside out”? Don’t worry, I won’t ask how many times you willingly watched it or coerced your child to watch it!

There was an absolute critical part that really struck a chord with me. At the end, just before their big family embrace, Riley (the little girl in case you haven’t watched it), said:

“I know you don’t want me to, but I miss my old home. You need me to be happy, but I want my old friends…..please don’t be mad”


This little girl has just gone through a major trauma of packing up the only home she has ever known, moved to the other side of the country, left her friends and hobbies behind – and on top of that she feels the responsibility to be happy for her parent’s sake. Heartbreaking for any parent to hear!

We can so often get consumed with helping our children succeed in life, that we bypass the foundational work, and start them straight on the adult work.

Showing my age or youth here, you choose! I am reminded of Curly Sue. The 1991 film starring Jim Belushi and Alisan Porter, a homeless duo that create cons and scams to scrape by with enough to eat. In order to show off to a well-to-do lawyer they met during one of their cons, Bill (Jim) instructs Sue (Alisan) to spell asphyxiate (which she does perfectly!). Later, the lawyer asks Sue to spell a smaller word, like cat, to which Sue confesses she doesn’t know how.


As with Riley and Sue, they were both indirectly and directly put in positions where they had to act as adults without the foundations they needed.

If you are reading this, chances are you are like me and want to set your child up for success. To do this, we need to have the patience to lay the foundations and wait for them to set properly.

We are a society of empowerment – yet too much too early can be detrimental. Children are growing up with the belief that they need to conquer the world, but are too anxious to know where to start. This is a key factor in addictions. Addictions start off by trying to find something that takes away the bad feelings – though the best they can do is mask them, creating a destructive cycle as the feelings get stronger to get the correct solution.

So why is emotional intelligence so important?

Feelings help us to work out if things are ok, or, most importantly, if something is wrong. We can usually very easily work out if things are ok, though if things aren’t, and we don’t know why, it can get very scary – and that is what we experience! Imagine being a child again, knowing something is wrong but not sure what – it is impossible to ask and receive the help we need if we can’t even explain the problem!

How can we start developing our child’s emotional vocabulary?

A really helpful first step you can start right away with, is building up your child’s emotional vocabulary. This isn’t just giving them words, but helping them to link the word to the feeling. This will involve taking opportunities as they come, and expressing your feelings as they come up. The more words you use, the more you add to what your child can use.

Another way to add feeling words to their vocabulary is by reading books! Along with the previously mentioned benefits, children can learn new words by hearing you read to them with emphasis – sad, happy, scared, etc. Stopping every now and then to explain words can help encourage interaction to process the new words.

What are the benefits?

You will actually find yourself feeling more in control as you give so much more intentional focus to your own emotions – allowing you to communicate your needs more effectively. You will also find your child will be feeling empowered in a healthy way – not in the way that they take on adult responsibility, but in a childlike way so they can really enjoy this time in their life – slowing it down for both them and us, which I personally, am very thankful for.

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